Maryland leads the way in climate preparedness

This week, Maryland released the “Comprehensive Strategy for Reducing Maryland’s Vulnerability to Climate Change”. For the past year, the state has been working to create plans for six sectors that will be affected by climate change. It’s been a rigorous process. Teams of experts from government, academia, non-profits, and business have worked to identify and address key vulnerabilities throughout the state. I participated in the Water Resources working group and was able to see the process firsthand.

The chapter on water resources lays out a forward-looking approach to maintaining a clean and consistent supply of water as the climate shifts. Climate change will bring more variable precipitation, greater flood risk, more frequent drought, and the potential for declining water quality. The working group emphasizes the need for flexible management responses, more efficient water use, and efforts to protect the state’s water resources and surrounding lands. It grounds the projected impacts in the realities that the state faces in terms of rising population, changing land use patterns, and local hydrology. More extreme precipitation, for example, will exacerbate existing problems with stormwater runoff from highly developed areas with large amounts of impervious surfaces.

Most impressively, the strategy provides concrete, actionable recommendations for reducing vulnerability in the near term, an area where many other climate preparation documents fall short. On the water supply side, the plan endorses the results of the 2008 “Wolman Committee” report which recommends protection of source waters and initiatives to alter water rate structures in order to promote conservation and efficiency. For dealing with flooding and increased stormwater runoff, the plan recommends removal of obsolete infrastructure such as aging dams and revising state infrastructure funding criteria to promote green infrastructure approaches. The Strategy also notes that certain strategies such as water efficiency and green infrastructure provide a more cost effective approach that will save money as the state deals with these looming challenges.

A common theme running throughout the entire Strategy is the need to protect and restore the state’s natural resources. The Forests and Terrestrial Ecosystems chapter focuses on reducing the loss and fragmentation of forests and improving stewardship on private lands. To improve the resilience of bay and aquatic ecosystems, the plan again recommends reducing impervious surfaces and remove existing barriers such as dams. There is a repeated recognition that healthy forests, wetlands, streams, and coastal areas provide a buffer against the challenges that climate change will bring.

In short, Maryland has taken a major step forward with this comprehensive adaptation plan. The state has not only gone through a rigorous review of its options; it has also identified a set of cost-effective strategies that will help build resilience for people and the environment. It remains to be seen how effectively these recommendations are implemented, but Maryland appears on the path to becoming a national leader in climate preparedness.